15 Minutes With… Melissa Bermudez, Farmers Business Network
By Michelle Pelletier Marshall, Women in Agribusiness Media (November 21, 2023)
(NOTE: This interview originally appeared in our sister publication, GAI News)
As director of finance services with Farmers Business Network, Inc. (FBN®), Melissa Bermudez enables the connections for investors to finance the farmers that feed our world. With a mission to help family farmers maximize their profit potential, FBN’s products and services help over 70,000 farmers across North and South America farm millions of acres more sustainably and profitably. That’s a chance to make a big difference. Started in 2014 and with headquarters in San Carlos, California, FBN offers products and services that improve the profit potential and long-term sustainability of family farmers. FBN Finance® ramped up in 2019 with a mission to innovate and digitize the farm finance market, bringing its “Farmers First” focus to products that range from equity-like investments in farmland through their Farmland Capital program, to operating, equipment, and real estate loans, to a land valuation technology platform.
With a background in finance and operations, an MBA from Harvard, and experience on Wall Street and in the startup world, Bermudez is well-positioned to introduce investors to the benefits of FBN Finance, connecting their funding to established farmers. “Our ultimate goal is to build the highest quality and highest ROI products for all our stakeholders. A major component of that is having a diverse base of capital partners interested in supporting our family farmers and gaining access to the ag space,” said Bermudez. “We’re set up to work with financial institutions on forward flow or receivables warehousing in multi-million dollar structures, or accept investments from personal investors with thousand-dollar-size investments.”
Attendees at the Global Ag Investing conference in New York City, April 15-17, 2024, can learn more by connecting with Bermudez and her team as they will be in attendance at the flagship event.
GAI News spoke with Bermudez to get a better understanding of the products and possibilities:
1). Please explain the uniqueness of the options provided by FBN.
FBN’s business model supports growers through their entire farming journey: from financing farmland, to ag input and equipment purchases, to purchasing inputs, to harvest, and even around hedging and risk management – we really try to be a partner for some of the toughest decisions farmers make.
We’re fortunate that our “Farmers First” pledge has resonated in the ag market, leading to opportunities for outperformance, driven by:
A healthy pipeline for investors: our empowered, loyal member base views us as a trusted partner and comes to us to finance their most valuable assets. We have a large pipeline we’re working to finance through a growing base of capital partners.
Financing the highest quality assets possible: from our data technology, due diligence processes, and growing pipeline, we are able to invest in the highest quality assets possible that we believe will, in the long term, outperform the average.
Ag exposure across the entire sector: for most GAI News readers, “ag exposure” has historically meant investing in land. Likewise, investors and capital partners in FBN Finance products can invest in ag land and gain exposure to ag by financing equipment purchases, annual operating loans, or other short-term structures for diversification in the sector.
2). Can you provide examples of farmland investments made and the ROI?
Our Farmland Capital product allows investors to partner with farmers in a minority portion of the farm’s value. Investors are able to invest in specific farms through a fund structure. One of our current available investments is a corn and soybean farm in Illinois. The land is situated in one of the most productive counties of the corn belt (as measured by soil quality and yields), and has shown above average yields for that high-performing county. The Farmland Capital investment enabled the younger generation to buy out an older relative and keep the farm in the same family (going on eight decades).
The structure has a target IRR or 12 percent for both the investor and farmer in a win-win structure that builds a path to long-term ownership for the farmer. Our legal team will want to make sure I point out that Target IRR represents an annual estimated target net internal rate of return (IRR) and may differ from actual returns. Target IRR is based on investment offering due diligence conducted by FBN Finance, LLC.
3). FBN works to ensure there is transparency in the farmland financing space. Please explain this.
One thing we appreciate about the agriculture industry is the concentrated power across suppliers, buyers, processors, and funding partners. On the other hand, farmers are often on their own, acting as agronomist, economist, mechanic, operator, bookkeeper, and more in a single day, negotiating with many other partners along the way. This is the genesis of Farmers Business Network – to aggregate the voices of farmers in a vertical where many other voices are often louder, and help them make the best decisions.
4). Who are some of FBN’s other investors and what does the future hold for further funding and development of the business?
From a corporate perspective, FBN has been around for almost 10 years now and has raised over $900 million in funding from investors that include Fidelity, BlackRock, Temasek, and Google Ventures, among others. We’re focused on continuing to innovate our product and services pipeline and deliver value for farmers.
One of our biggest lessons on the FBN Finance-side specifically is that we can do this while also providing meaningful returns to Farmland Capital’s financial partners. Within FBN Finance and Farmland Capital that has looked like building products that allow our capital partners to connect with and invest in farmers directly.
We’re constantly looking to grow our relationships with partners for products that span the financial needs of farmers. Reach out anytime to our team at firstname.lastname@example.org or on the contact us page of our website.
5). We host a sister event called Women in Agribusiness Summit that focuses on providing industry knowledge and networking for professional women across the ag supply chain. Can you comment on the opportunities you have provided for females in agriculture, and in general, as a woman yourself, some advice on making the most of working in this oftentimes male-dominated industry?
In the capital provider space specifically, I would love to bring in more female investors! Clearly agriculture is a very meaningful sector for investment and growing wealth for the long term, and it’s important that these opportunities are available for as many folks as possible. I would love to connect with any women looking for more exposure to the ag investments mentioned above.
Otherwise, the biggest lesson I have learned in my career has had to do with feeling confident in places where you may be the “only” or feeling the dreaded “imposter syndrome”. I’ve needed to learn how to have presence and confidence in spaces where folks are used to seeing the more typical displays and signs of leadership. For me that has meant spending a lot of time building my own specific picture of what success looks like, and feeling confident that, while it may look different from others around me, that confidence brings with it its own power.
I find it especially powerful to think about how meaningful it is to display different styles to both men and women growing in their careers to redefine what leadership can look like for the next generation. Two books that I have found particularly helpful on the topic of “quiet-fluencing” are Quiet (coincidentally!) and Permission to Speak.
ABOUT MELISSA BERMUDEZ
Melissa Bermudez is director of Finance Platform Services at Farmers Business Network (FBN), a leading agtech company that empowers farmers with data, insights, and opportunities. She has more than 10 years of experience in investing, building, and operating businesses across various sectors and stages, with a focus on mission-driven and environmentally sustainable ventures.
Bermudez oversees the strategy, operations, and growth of the Farmland Capital investor platform, which is a novel way to connect farmers and investors with financing and investment opportunities in U.S. farmland. The platform enables farmers to retain ownership in their land, generating outsized returns for investors, and creating long-term environmental benefits.
A graduate of Columbia University with a bachelor’s degree in applied mathematics, Bermudez also holds her MBA from Harvard Business School.